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Guide to Diabetes

Diabetes and Alcohol

Having diabetes does not mean that you need to avoid drinking alcohol.The Government guidelines for sensible drinking apply to you whether you have diabetes or not.



  • Men should aim to have no more than 3 units per day or 21 units per week  

  • Women should aim to have no more than 2 units per day or 14 units per week


One unit =1 small glass of wine, ½ pint of beer or cider or 1 pub measure of spirits ie whiskey gin, sherry, vermouth, aperitif or liqueur)

It’s good to try and aim to have 2 or 3 alcohol free days each week

What does alcohol do?


Diabetes medication works to lower your blood glucose levels. If your blood glucose level drops too low, your liver releases some of its stores of glucose into the blood to raise your blood glucose level. Drinking too much alcohol reduces the ability for your liver to do this, and combining this effect with some diabetes medications, increases the chance of you having a hypo. Also, you may be less aware of hypo warning signs when you have had some alcohol.
The liver gets rid of alcohol at the rate of about one unit per hour, but this can vary. So if you drink more than a few units in an evening, you will have an increased risk of a hypo all night and also part of the next day as the liver continues to get rid of alcohol.
People with diabetes are able to drink alcohol but sensible drinking recommendations apply. Take precautions for your own safety and the safety of others.

Where possible: 

  • Opt for ordinary beer or lager, preferably with an alcoholic content of less than 5%.
  • Avoid low sugar ‘diabetic’ alcoholic they contain more alcohol than ordinary varieties.
  • Alternate non-alcoholic sugarfree drinks with alcohol.
  • Choose medium/dry varieties of wine and sherry, Make sure your friends know about hypos.
  • Know Your Limits!
  • Unless advised otherwise an alcoholic drink will do no harm if taken just before or with food.
  • Avoid drinking on empty stomach
  • If you are going to have alcohol, have it with a meal or a snack
  • Never drink and drive
  • A hypo can happen some hours after drinking. Check your blood glucose levels before you go to sleep and have a snack if needed!
  • DO NOT correct a high blood glucose level before you go to sleep by taking more insulin if you have drunk alcohol
  • Alcohol may cause unpleaseant 'flushing' in some people who are taking diabetes tablets


Remember - Precautions


  •  Always carry glucose tablets or sweets on you
  • Always carry your diabetes identification with you
  • Alcoholic drinks taken in large quantites can lead to severe hypos particularly while you are asleep.
  • Hypoglycaemia and drunken behaviour can be confused with each other
  • Your safety and the safety of others is your responsibility
  • Never stop taking your tablets or insulin.


The Morning After

  • Always have some breakfast even if you don’t feel like it.
  •  Make sure you have plenty of sugar free liquids and eat starchy food
  •  If you are having symptoms of a hypo treat it straight away - DO NOT ignore it!
  • You can take over the counter remedies like paracetamol or antacids

(Ref:Diabetes UK, LNDS)

Useful Link


Alcohol & Diabetes- What you need to know
Information produced and link provided by NHS Greater Glasgow (